If you want to improve the health and wellbeing of people on a local, national or international scale you should choose one of the many public health jobs available
Public health is about taking a broad view of society to improve wellbeing and prevent illness - in contrast to hospital doctors, GPs and nurses who primarily look after individual patients on a case-by-case basis.
According to NHS Health Careers, there are three main areas of public health:
- Health protection - working to prevent the outbreak of epidemics, plan responses to emergencies, or in food safety.
- Improving peoples health - you might be involved in campaigns to encourage heathier eating, physical exercise, or to persuade people to quit smoking and drugs.
- Healthcare services - making sure that everyone has access to the high quality health services and medicines that they need, when they need them.
What are the most important public health issues?
The priority of public health professionals is to reduce inequalities in health outcomes. Other major challenges are:
- environmental sustainability and climate change
- antimicrobial resistance
- preparing for epidemics
- mental health
- building public trust in health protection and preventative measures.
There is also the rising burden of death and illness due to so-called 'lifestyle diseases' - those which, on one level, are simply explained by inactivity, alcohol consumption and poor diet. While on another level can be connected to poverty and lack of opportunity, as evidenced by the far higher rates of such illness in deprived communities.
How do I get a job in public health?
Jobs are available in local authorities and government, the NHS, private healthcare companies, charities, and in higher education/research. Roles are varied - encompassing everything from school nurses and substance misuse workers to public health consultants and epidemiologists - meaning there is no standard route into this field.
Find out more about relevant roles to see what qualifications are required:
- Environmental health practitioner
- Health and safety adviser
- Health improvement practitioner
- Health visitor
- Occupational hygienist
For more information about what is considered a public health job, see Health Careers - The public health workforce explained.
Gaining work experience by volunteering for public health related charities is one way of impressing potential employers. When it comes to looking for jobs, NHS Jobs and local authority websites are good places to start, as well as general jobs websites for opportunities in the private sector.
You should also keep up to date on matters relating to public health by checking the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Faculty of Public Health websites, and when looking globally, try the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organisation.
To work in a high-level role, for example in public health consultancy, studying for a Masters degree in public health will give you a significant advantage.
What does an MSc Public Health involve?
As well as giving you a good grounding in contemporary public health practice a postgraduate course can connect you with professionals that work in public health and perhaps give you the chance to be involved in a live project. If you are interested in a career in health research, then the right course can put you in touch with the leading researchers in the field, and is also a good stepping stone to a PhD.
Entry requirements for Masters programmes in public health usually include a good undergraduate degree in a health-related subject. Relevant subjects such as geography, politics and psychology are often accepted too. Having some paid or voluntary work experience that demonstrates your interests will significantly improve your chances of getting a place.
Tuition fees for full-time, one-year courses tend to be between £6,000 and £10,000, although you may be eligible for a Masters loan. Most Masters degrees in public health are also available to study over two years on a part-time basis.
You'll typically study a set of core modules and write a dissertation. For instance, the modules you'll take on the University of Salford's MSc Public Health include:
- 21st century global public health challenges
- Epidemiology and statistics for public health
- Research methods applied to public health.
Meanwhile, London Metropolitan University's MSc covers modules such as:
- Health improvement
- Introduction to epidemiology
- Ethical issues in healthcare.
You'll need to research the different public health Masters degrees available to see which one best meets your own interests. When looking for a course think about choosing one that includes a contemporary focus on the 'upstream' causes, or 'social determinants' of health. This is because by far the greatest health burden is caused because the population does not have equal access to a healthy environment and a healthy society.
It's also worth discovering whether your course is accredited by the Agency for Public Health Education Accreditation or has core modules approved by the Royal Society for Public Health, as both will give you more standing with employers.
Graduates of MSc in public health courses often go on to positions within:
- the NHS
- community organisations
- government agencies
- local authorities
- health promotion agencies
- human rights agencies
- health sectors abroad
- international health institutions
- business and voluntary sectors.
Some graduates also undertake advanced research studies.
To find the right programme for you, search for postgraduate courses in public health.
Find out more
- Explore the healthcare sector.